Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fighting and Supporting the Nazis in the East.

All major nationalist groups, except Armija Krajowa (AK), hoped the Germans would allow them to organize their national armies, which would fight the Soviet Union as Axis members. Thousands volunteered to join the police battalions – the first collaborator military units organized by the Germans. However, the German administration did not allow collaborators to pursue any other agenda but its own and often sent these units to fight outside their native regions, where their soldiers could not even entertain the thought that they defended the interests of their nations. The Germans disbanded Nachtigall and Roland battalions in August 1941 and afterward moved their personnel, containing many OUN members, to Belorussia, where they fought partisans. These soldiers faithfully served Germany for 17 months after the arrest of the top OUN-B leaders until Germans disbanded them. In 1943, the Germans raised the Ukrainian Waffen-SS Galizien Division with the help of OUN-M. It was crushed three weeks after its arrival at the front in June 1944, and then its remnants suppressed insurgencies in Slovakia and Slovenia. 66 Himmler officially forbade reference to Galizien as Ukrainian, and only on 19 April 1945 did that word become a part of its title.

Most Balts preferred the Germans to the Soviets as an occupying force, and many wholeheartedly collaborated. The Baltic police battalions consisted mainly of nationalist volunteers. Latvia and Estonia gave Germany many more collaborators per capita than other borderland regions. Latvian units fought around Lake Il’men’ in Russia, in Ukraine, and in Crimea; Estonians did the same in Belorussia, Ukraine, and Stalingrad; and Lithuanians did so in Belorussia and Ukraine. 68 The Latvian administration raised 48 police battalions, some of which were later reorganized into two Waffen-SS divisions. By 1 July 1944, 85,550 Latvians were enlisted in the SS, with another 61,060 as auxiliaries in the German forces, which constituted 8 percent of Latvian population, a top proportion among the countries that supplied German collaborators. 69 Three times as many Latvian citizens fought for the Germans as for the Soviets; only 57,470 Latvians joined the Red Army.  In Estonia, the self-administration organized a Waffen-SS legion in October 1942, transformed into a Waffen-SS division in May 1944. Along with police battalions that operated since the beginning of the German occupation, the Estonian collaborators numbered between 50,000 to 60,000 men at that time, five times larger than the regular army of independent Estonia. After the influx of volunteers dried up, the Germans resorted to conscription, and the self-administrations obediently drafted Balts, threatening those who failed to report with “punishment according to martial law.” Yet many Latvian and Estonian soldiers fought for the Axis with enthusiasm. Indeed, the Latvian 19th Waffen-SS Division stubbornly defended Courland until Germany surrendered; whereas a unit from the Latvian 15th Waffen-SS Division guarded Hitler’s bunker in Berlin during his last days. About 50,000 Latvians died while fighting on German side, 10 times as many as the number of those who died fighting for the Soviets.  Lithuanian nationalists, by contrast, called on recruits to evade German conscriptions. No unit larger than a police battalion was ever organized. By January 1945, 36,800 Lithuanians organized in 21 police battalions fought for the Germans.  The largest Baltic state thus gave the Germans the smallest number of collaborators.

Apart from the Holocaust, Baltic police battalions performed mainly counterinsurgency missions. They conducted these operations in the style set by the Nazis. Of 48 Latvian police battalions, 26 engaged in counterinsurgency in Belorussia and “have remained in the historic memory of the Belorussian people … as members of punitive expeditions … conspicuous by their ruthlessness.” In an operation called “Winter Magic,” they burned down between 15 and 26 Belorussian villages and executed scores of civilians, some of them burned alive in locked buildings. 88 Latvian police units also killed all 235 inhabitants of the Latvian village of Audrini and 47 persons in the village of Morduki in retaliation for sheltering partisans.  Friedrich Schwung , Gebietskommissar in Latgale , commented: “Latvian policemen almost all have a bit of sadism in their blood.”  The Estonian self-administration raised over 20 police battalions. Of them, 7 were guarding Estonian concentration camps; 12 engaged in antipartisan operations in Russia, Belorussia, and Poland; and 3 conducted deportations to Germany and Estonia and food requisitions. During a counterinsurgency campaign in the Russian Pskov Province, the 37th and 40th Estonian Police Battalions were parts of the 207th German Security Division. Its reports state that it executed 93 percent of the arrested partisan suspects and suspected partisan sympathizers among civilians in 1942 and 81 percent in 1943 – in total, 541 persons. The 288th Estonian Police Battalion burned down 30 Belorussian villages.  

Unlike many Balts and West Ukrainians, West Belorussians mostly abstained from collaboration. Rosenberg observed that “no positive elements with whom we could cooperate exist in Belorussia.” Ordnungsdienst, the German auxiliary police, resorted to a compulsory draft of Belorussians, enforced by taking hostages from the families of eligible men. The police units so organized were fused into the least enthusiastic of all Waffen-SS divisions.

No comments:

Post a Comment